United States

Family Separated for 15 Years to Reunite When Border Gate Opens

"We are free to be here in the U.S. but at the same time, we’re limited in what we can do, where we can travel and who we can be with"

A family living on opposite sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for more than 15 years was reunited for a few short minutes Saturday, when U.S. Border Patrol agents open the gates.

It was all part of an event, now in its sixth year, called "Opening the Door for Hope" that allows a select number of families, to embrace their loved ones for three minutes at Friendship Park, an area between two border fences at Border Field State Park near south San Diego. This year 12 families were selected.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) allows families to see each other through a fortified fence at Friendship Park while still remaining firmly in their countries. But for this special event, agents opened the gates that separate them, allowing loved ones to hug, kiss and talk without boundaries.

"There will be families hugging one another that, for one reason or another, can't cross [the border] north or south," said Enrique Morones, director of Border Angels, a nonprofit that supports San Diego's immigrant population.

For families to qualify, the person from the U.S. must have legal documentation.

One at a time, people were allowed to pass through the open gate and embrace loved ones. One couple even took their few minutes to get married. With such a short amount of time, few words were spoken, instead sharing tearful hugs. 

"A lot of tears were running down my face too, but out of joy more than anything," said Vicente Saldana, a DACA recipient and recent UC San Diego graduate, who was there with his sister and niece to see his mother for the first time in 10 years. 

The day put things into perspective for him. 

"We are free to be here in the U.S. but at the same time, we’re limited in what we can do, where we can travel and who we can be with," Saldana said. "We just try to stay strong and push hard every day and we know that one day we will be able to reunite with her."

Claudia Rocha traveled about 500 miles from San Jose, California, to be one of those families after her husband, Guillermo, worked with Border Angels to apply.

She told Telemundo 20 in San Diego that it's been 15 years since she has seen her parents. She also has a brother whom she hadn't seen since he was a months-old infant.

"I have a little brother who is 15 years old and he's also excited because, well, he doesn't know me -- he only knows me through pictures. And he tells me he wants to meet me," Claudia said ahead of the event. "I want to hug them and not let them go for those few minutes."

Morones says he is not sure how much longer the reunification event will last, because of the Trump administration and stricter immigration policies.

“We hope that Congress will do something for us 'Dreamers' at the end of the day," Saldana said. "We're good people and we're here with good intentions."

For now, loved ones are embracing the opportunity to embrace each other, if only for three minutes. 

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